25th September, 2010
After seeing Leicester’s Curve’s production in 2009, I thought more and more about how much I enjoyed Arthur Miller’s American classic, first performed in 1947. I bought the script and found the language, particularly in the final act, powerful and emotive and when finding out that Howard Davies would be reviving his acclaimed production from the National in 2000, I really looked forward to seeing it.
It took 10 years for Davies to bring his production to the West End, which makes me wonder why it took so long. David Suchet took the role of Joe Keller, the self-made businessman who was falsely exonerated for shipping off faulty airplane parts in WWII, and Zoe Wanamaker played his wife Kate who still holds out false hope for their son Larry to return home from the war. Their performances were both excellent. I initially doubted whether Suchet would fit the role of Keller but only because I hadn’t seen him in many other things apart from Poirot. However, he roamed around his garden like a lion in his den, proclaiming how there’s nothing bigger than the values of family and the home. He is the typical tragic hero – the man who embodies what the American Dream endorsed, without realising that there is something bigger than the family in the world. When he does realise it, it is far too late, and he cannot bear to live any more.
Chris, his son played by Stephen Campbell Moore, does realise this and is easily the moralist of the piece, some critics even arguing that he is most near to Miller himself - after all they were the same age at the time of Miller writing it. But he’s not always likeable. Indeed, I found myself favouring Joe’s ideals by the end. The benefits of Capitalism are well endorsed by Miller but ultimately are bound to fail, but just as Joe does not realise this, I also began to favour him. ‘A man can’t be a Jesus in this world’ he exclaims to Chris in the brilliantly dramatic third act, thus leaving me agreeing with him and the lifestyle that he promotes, even though it is not realistically ever able to work. The audience never seeing anyone as a villain comes from the genius of Miller’s writing. The slow – perhaps mundane opening act – featuring the characters talking of the weather and what’s in the paper allows for you to get to know them so well that you begin to feel to know them better than your own neighbours by the end, thus making the impact of the end much sadder and more dramatic.
Zoe Wanamaker’s performance was also brilliant. Kate’s moments of chirpiness are held up by the hope that she holds for Larry to return, without which she would be in a constant state of sadness. Some critics have observed that moments of the play are a little contrived such as the use of a letter to reveal what’s happened to Larry. However, when Kate read it, Wanamaker let out a series of moans which were brilliantly theatrical – it was one of those moments where your love of theatre and acting was affirmed as she truly conveyed Kate’s emotion, lost in the character.
The apex of the dialogue in Act Three was filmed as part of a trailer for the show but seeing it live, where the performances were slightly heightened to fill the Apollo, Suchet and Wanamaker sent shivers down the spine. ‘I’m his father and he’s my son, and if there’s something bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head’ are the potent words spat by Keller, completely consumed by his deluded view of the world. And although Kate cries back to Joe that Chris doesn’t see the world like that, her silence also spoke volumes of the pain and guilt that she’s suffering.
William Dudley’s set of the back yard and veranda of a four-square house (the epitome of the American Dream) is enclosed by trees and branches overhead to nicely reflect the secluded world of the Kellers from the rest of society. As the gunshot sounds from inside the house, I’m sure the house literally jumped with all its windows momentarily ablaze with light, leaving a still Wanamaker looking up to the Gods of the auditorium to desperately cry out her final lines.
Overall, this was a marvellous production with a superb cast and it will remain one of my most memorable and enjoyable times in a theatre.
All My Sons played at the Apollo Theatre until 2nd October, 2010. If you missed the show, it was recorded by Digital Theatre and is now available for download.